About Last Night: East Passyunk Pop-Up At Cook

Joe Cicala (Le Virtu), Jennifer Conley (Stateside), George Sabatino (Stateside), Jesse Prawlucki (Fond, Belle Cakery), Lee Styer (Fond)

It began with tiny espresso cups of warm foie gras soup, ended with big coffee mugs of rum and rye under a nutmeg-sprinkled egg foam masquerading as a harmless after-dinner cappucino, and in between there was a handmade pasta demo, tiny little finger-thick tuille cannoli, a dry gin Vesper with persimmon, roasted squab attended by their own confit legs, tales of saffron smuggling in Abruzze and rabbit agnolotti topped with slips of black truffle that all the cooks (plus me and Art) ended up eating in the basement–gathered around the still-warm pan, stabbing the little ravioli with forks, swearing that we were going to eat just one more, then going back in for another and another and another.

This was last night’s party at Cook–an East Passyunk neighborhood pop-up, inspired by the Philadelphia magazine Neighborhoods issue which is on the stands right now. While we were putting that package together, East Passyunk really came through as one of the stars–a historic, well-known, food-rich and booze-soaked run of blocks long understood as ground-zero for Philly’s cheesesteak face-off, suddenly booming as an honest-to-Jesus Restaurant Row.

So why the sudden boom here? Simple: Money follows money. To smart investors, the blocks surrounding 9th and Passyunk must look like there’s gold lying on the ground. The neighborhood attracts both locals and tourists, and has long since proved itself a winner. Where Le Virtu once turned the city on to the Abruzze region of Italy, and a young team of Lacroix and Le Bec alums created a true destination restaurant with Fond, the bandwagon-jumpers are keeping things hot with new opening after new opening.

That’s what we said in the issue. What we said after the issue was done was that merely calling these neighborhoods out wasn’t enough. What we needed was to celebrate them. To bring together the chefs and the bakers and the drink-slingers, put ‘em all in one room, have them cook for their friends and neighbors and biggest fans and see what they came up with.

What they came up with was scallop crudo with fennel two ways and bright squiggles of fluid gel (from George Sabatino of Stateside), those rabbit agnolotti with black truffles (courtesy of Le Virtu’s Joe Cicala, who also apparently makes tiny little rugs out of the fur from the whole rabbits he gets into the restaurant–which is just awesome), whole squab, roasted, deconstructed, sliced, fanned and accented by a single roasted carrot (from Fond’s Lee Styer, who also did those pre-dinner shooters of foie gras, which were amazing) and then chocolate cannoli over bruleed bananas topped with coconut powder from Jesse Prawlucki who once shared a too-small kitchen with Lee at Fond, but now does her own thing in her own space at Belle Cakery. With each course, Jennifer Conley (who commands the bar at Stateside and has a wicked love for the brown liquors) did paired cocktails like the aforementioned Vesper and the also-aforementioned rum-and-rye concoction which, traditionally, is called a Tom & Jerry.

No one left Cook hungry. No one who didn’t want to left sober. And the party ran up to the scheduled end, then well beyond–which is how we knew it was a success.

Or, rather, that was one of the ways we knew it was a success. What actually convinced me was the way that, no matter which of the chefs was taking the stage at a particular moment, all of the others stood waiting in the wings, helping to prep, to plate and to pass. No one had to ask. No one had to call out for a spare set of hands. As a matter of fact, I had Joe Cicala cornered for a bit while Lee Styer was demonstrating how to dismember a squab. We were talking about the history of Abruzze cuisine (a thousand years of purity, in a region never conquered by any other nation), about Adriatic fish and flour-and-water pastas and other things that only food nerds find fascinating. But right in the middle of the conversation–just when he was telling me about the little old woman from whom he scores his Italian saffron–he abruptly turned and left. Mid-sentence. Without looking back.

Over on the prep tables, they were short a hand for laying on the roasted carrots, and Joe understood that helping out a fellow cook was more important than talking to me. That kind of move? It’s one of the reasons why Philly has the kinds of restaurant neighborhoods it does. And it’s one of the reasons why our East Passyunk pop-up was only the first that we’re going to be doing at Cook.

Next month, we have a Fishtown version already on the books–and which sold-out even before we could tell anyone which chefs and which restaurants were going to be represented. But in the coming months, we have several more neighborhood pop-ups being planned (like one having to do with food trucks, and another balancing the books on Fairmount, which suddenly exploded after the Neighborhoods issue had already gone to the printers).

So keep an eye on Cook’s schedule, keep an eye on Foobooz, and when the time comes, be quick with the ticket-ordering, okay? Cook is a small place. These events sell out fast. But we’d love to see you all there.

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  • http://MyRuinedLife.com Lee

    Love COOK so much! Looking forward to the Fishtown event.

    (Note: It’s “COOK,” not “Cook.” Start crossing out those lowercase letters …)

  • BFree

    Great, more whoring out of an idiotic concept. Stop cramming this shit down our throats. WE DONT CARE. ITS JUST PR BULLSHIT LIKE THE COMMENT ABOVE.

  • pete

    man those boys are sexy!

  • jay

    BFree, if nobody cares (as you claim), then how did the class sell out?

  • lobster mushroom

    Jesus, Bfree, relax. The moneyed folks around Rittenhouse are literally eating this stuff up, and are glad for the opportunity to pay for it. The rich have always loved to be entertained by the help, and this is little different – the help just happens to now be experiencing a historically unique elevated cultural status. As someone who has toiled in sweaty, cramped kitchens for about a third of his life, I’d like to say: ABOUT DAMN TIME. Let them make a buck and get some credit for what they do. This is a lifelong career for these cooks and chefs, most of whom cook in tiny kitchens without PR budgets, and who would likely toil away in relative obscurity under shitty conditions for your eating pleasure. I don’t care about the whole COOK concept, either, but there’s no reason to be such a contrarian douche about it. Good for them.

  • rory

    “sell out?” How many seats are there in COOK? talk about a low bar–each of their restaurants seats that many people on a slow day, and Fond + stateside are pretty tiny.

    I don’t think Bfree is mad @ COOK, I think it has more to do with this website and it’s “we rock!” attitude about itself–really, what was the point of that self-congratulatory note about the Fishtown pop-up? How many classes at COOK don’t sell out?

    as for the comment about these guys toiling in obscurity–COOK pop-up probably didn’t help. They’ve gotten far more press on their own in their own kitchens than this one event could receive. These aren’t no-name chefs at no-name restaurants. I’m not bashing the event, because it is a good idea and I’d like to go to one, but man, the style of writing and self-congratulations for putting this together is getting out of hand. No disrespect (well, maybe some…), but Fond’s done collaboration dinners before (and I’m pretty sure Le Virtu has as well). Chefs help each other all the time. Foobooz/philly mag didn’t create something novel with this.

  • T-Mac

    COOK is the shit! Rory is a hater as usual. The place is outfitted and run wonderfully by Jackie and Lily. It’s a great way to collaborate and have a kick ass time in the process.

  • rory

    I said nothing negative about cook–i have no opinion on cook. this website and its self-congratulatory shilling, on the other hand…

  • Anthony

    How about a South Jersey edition? Capasso, Baldino, and Ito.